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Rocket-motor scrub 'another day at the office'

Published August 27, 2009 5:23 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

At t-minus 45 seconds the voice over the loudspeaker announced the rocket motor was armed.

At t-minus 20 seconds, the test firing of Alliant Techsystem's first stage booster motor designed for NASA's new Ares 1 rocket was put on hold -- and then the bad news came.

The rocket motor's 'thrust-control vector' -- the mechanism that moves the nozzle on the rocket motor -- suffered an hydraulic fuel-valve failure, and the test firing was canceled.

ATK spokesman George Torres said the system "worked like it was supposed; it gave us the signal that we shouldn't go forward."

He said the test will be rescheduled for no earlier than Tuesday.

A grim-faced Alex Priskos, NASA's manager of the Ares 1 first stage element office, said that while disappointing, the scrubbing of the test was "part of what we do. We did a lot of homework not to be here, but for us it was another day at the office."

ATK had been planning the test firing for months. Priskos said the test will not be rescheduled until the cause of the failure is known.

"It is a rare occurrence for there to be an anomaly" in the TCV system, said Charlie Precourt, ATK's vice president and general manager of the company's Space Launch Systems. "In 10 years, we never have had an anomaly [like this] scrub a shuttle launch due to this kind of testing."

Although strikingly similar to the four-segment booster motors that for years have been used to propel the space shuttle into orbit, the new booster was built with an additional segment to provide more thrust and allow more weight to be lifted into orbit.

Prior to the test scrub, Precourt said the Ares 1 will be 10 times safer for astronauts than the space shuttle, which it will replace.

The Ares 1 is tentatively scheduled for its maiden flight in 2015. But unlike the shuttle that has its booster motors sitting to the sides of the main fuel tank, the various stages of the Ares 1 will be stacked on top of each another.

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